Saturday, April 04, 2009


Lisa and Truman Come to Visit

Over the weekend, my dear friend Lisa and her son Truman came to visit me in California. Lisa is a talented poet whose work I've long loved; her first book comes out this fall at the same time that mine does. I'm also incredibly fond of Truman who, given is parents, his naturally bright, loving and energetic. I've been a fan of Truman ever since I met him--I think he was something like 6 months old. He's a precocious youngster, who uses words like "set up" and at age 2 showed concern for others by warning my bridesmaids to stay away from the heater because it was "too hot" when we went to visit him in his home last year.

Truman was fascinated by our lemon tree, which was full of fruit. He learned quickly to identify which lemons were ripe and which were still too green, and did a fine job of harvesting, employing a chair to reach the higher fruit. I've forgotten what it is to be very short.

When Gordon called via Skype from Scotland, Truman hopped onto my lap to show off a lemon he had picked. We explained to Truman that the sun was still shining in California, but that it was dark in the UK. He seemed to understand this because when he went to bed that night, he said: "Now the sun is coming up where Gordon is." I doubt I understood abstract things like the rotation of the sun when I was three.

The weather was so beautiful, so we went off to Nepenthe to see some whales, and enjoy a cup of coffee. Once there, I'm afraid that coffee turned into wine, a cheese platter and bruschetta. Also, there were no whales, but the view was marvelous.

Truman had a conference call with his father on my iPhone. Remembering the Skype conversation, Truman attempted to show off a packet of crayons; we had to explain that the iPhone allowed the phone to speak outloud, but that there was no video. But it was fascinating to see how quickly children adapt to and understand technology.

Our visit also included a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a wonderful place to visit for people of all ages. This is sadly not the best picture, but you do get a sense of just how intrigued with Truman this penguin was.

I admire the way that the Aquarium in Monterey tries to find ways to entertain and teach children about the ocean. This video game was designed to teach kids how to tidepool correctly.

Here's a closeup of the screen; the footprints show where on the rocks the player is standing. Failure involves stepping on kelp, animals, or falling into the water. The kids ate it up. I did wonder about what it means that we live so much in a virtual world. Then again, I am also a person who is happy to think of most things as a game--a sense of play about life can be wonderful.

We ate sushi for dinner at one of my all time favorite restaurants, Akaoni, which means "red devil." I like Japanese devils. They are scary, but also very funny, which we tried to explain to Truman. "See the masks on the wall?" I said. "They are kind of funny and scary." He gave this a great deal of thought.

I once asked the sushi chef (in Japanese) why he had named his restaurant "red devil" in the first place. The sushi chef is a character--a complex and conflicted perfectionist, ie the sort of person I like. He told me that he wanted to name his restaurant something that would be sure to offend the Americans (even after, mind you, he came to America to make some money and to circumvent the archaic and Byzantine system a sushi chef would need to go through in Japan). I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling him that if he had really wanted to offend, he ought to have named his restaurant "white devil." But I understand the need to engage in small acts of rebellion, so I stayed silent.

That evening, I saw a guy come in with a bald head, some kind of ultra-man leather zip-up suit, and a multitude of piercings and tattoos. Something about his eyes and smile when he turned his head reminded me of a childhood friend who I hadn't seen in over twenty years. At last I got up the nerve to ask if he was my old friend JJ, and he was.

He remembered me. He'd been to Japan, and even spoke a little bit of Japanese and announced to his friends at the table that I'd taught him his first Japanese word--mushi--which he still remembered. I was moved. Both of us in various ways had had our difficulty with our K-8 schooling. We naturally had difficulties with authority, and our intelligence was routinely questioned by TPTB, though I think he was underestimated even more than I was. I still recall the teacher who told me I'd never learn the English language due to my mixed background; JJ was incorrectly and horribly accused of being "retarded." Adults can be so awful. In my case, my parents refused to accept the judgment imposed on me, and my father to the end of his life smirked when he recalled how I'd been given a verbal test in 2nd grade that had me score off the charts.

JJ remembered that I stuck by him; I remember him as always sticking by me. It was wonderful to reconnect.

Truman, wise child and reader of people's true character, was as unfazed by JJ's appearance as he was by the masks of red devil's on the walls of the restaurant. The two had a grand time as JJ explained the various accouterments on his outfit. One day I expect Truman to race around on JJ's motorcycle.

On my way home yesterday, I was startled when United gave me a complimentary upgrade to Business Class. I sat next to an insolvency attorney and a very annoying CEO who offered me $500 to change seats with him. "I'll give you the money," he said. "No you won't," I said. "Yes I will." "This must be the flight to New York," I sighed. At this point, the CEO began the "Guess-what-this-girl-does-for-a-living" game. And, yes, I admit to some small pleasure at being able to tell him.

"Wait. You don't write for some hate journal or eco activist thing do you?" He asked. "Or a gossip column?"

"No," I said. "I am that most useless of individuals. A novelist. However, my job means that I am always observing and taking notes about people."

"It's true," said the insolvency attorney. "Look at her. She's taking it all in. I can feel it."

I left them to their talk of taxes and $850/hour attorney's fees and companies they hoped to turn around and went to sleep. But not before taking this picture. Seriously. a part of my heart is always stuck in San Francisco.

What a lovely visit. Truman sounds like an amazing kid! And how neat that you got to reconnect with an old friend, too :)
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